Category Archives: Waste Walk

Identify Waste by Going to Gemba

identifying waste

As you may know, “Genba,” which has been popularized as “Gemba,” is a Japanese word meaning “the real place.”

The word is widely used in Japan, where detectives frequently refer to a crime scene as genba, and Japanese TV reporters often refer to themselves as reporting from genba/gemba.

In the business realm, gemba refers to the place where work is done and value created. For example, in manufacturing gemba is typically the factory floor, but looking further afield it can be any location — a construction site,
administrative office, or sales bullpen — where the actual work is being done.

When it comes to Continuous Improvement, problems are most visible in these areas, and the best improvement ideas will come from going to gemba. If your objective is to identify waste, there is no substitute for ‘going to the work’ and there are things that can only be learned by going there and watching the work with a purpose.

Thus a gemba walk, or waste walk, is an activity that takes management and other stakeholders to the front lines to look for waste and opportunities for improvement; to observe the work where the work is being done, and to identify what goes wrong or could go wrong, how often it does or could go wrong, and the associated consequences. The waste walk is designed to help everyone understand the value stream and its problems; it is not to review results and make superficial comments.

Aside from identifying waste and the specific gains made during waste walks, there are also higher-level benefits associated with the practice:

  • Engagement: Since people at all levels are involved, and since the waste walks have proved to be an effective method of detecting hard-to-identify problems as well as solutions which improve both productivity and day-to-day quality of work life, a noticeable increase in workforce engagement is a common by-product. People like it when problems they have known about for a long time are finally solved!
  • Trust: Company leaders are able to establish greater levels of trust with the people closest to the work, by showing interest and seeking the opinions and input of those doing the work.
  • Learn the Truth: Going to gemba enables leaders to identify reality versus what they think (or hope) is happening. Waste walks help leaders to question their assumptions as well.
  • Better Ideas: When the people who are doing the work or executing the process every day start talking, thinking and feeling empowered, the ideas really flow…
  • Ask the Right Questions: as suggested in an earlier post, questions are often the “answer” to making breakthrough improvements. However, the quality of those questions is the key! Getting the data and seeing it for the first time based on direct observation is powerful; and then if you can get customers, suppliers and company personnel working through the chain, the quality of questions that surface promote more innovative and accurate solutions.
  • Improvement vs. Habit-forming Execution: The combination of fresh eyes, diverse perspective, amnesty, and a collective, sincere interest to eliminate waste and continually improve the work process tends to bring about real, often outside-of-the-box solutions; true Improvement versus dong things the same way.

Watching Our Work: The Ohno Circle

ohno circle

A related concept to waste walks, the subject of our previous few posts, is the “Ohno Circle.”

Taiichi Ohno is credited for much of the thinking behind the Toyota
Production System, and he invented a novel method of making improvements. He would go to draw a chalk circle on the floor, and stand in it. He would stand for hours, watching and thinking about what he was seeing. He would look for what was getting in the way of people creating value and he would study the situation to determine what was causing it. This gave him the insight he needed to make lasting improvements.

Ohno’s approach is different from simply visiting “gemba” or touring the line, as it goes beyond “looking” to “watching.” Taking the time to actually watch work being done can pay big dividends, and often helps well-intentioned people avoid “learning too little and assuming too much.”

In fact, many CI leaders have confessed, after-the-fact, that, if they had simply stood in one place long enough to watch carefully, they would have quickly seen the true root causes of many problems that took weeks to solve.

Don’t Just Do Something: Waste Walk Best Practices

waste walk

Continuing the theme of “waste walks,” there are several fundamental guidelines that should be followed in order to optimize the value and outcomes.

Here are some best practices for implementing Waste Walks (or “going to gemba“) that have proved successful in organizations and that have brought-about break-through results:

  • Communicate before starting. Begin by breaking the ice with the people in the work area so they know what is happening and why; make it clear that this is not a fault-finding mission, that there is amnesty, and that the Waste Walk is an effort to “help, not to shoot the wounded.”
  • Communicate with the gemba team. Establish ground rules, making sure to describe the theme or the forms of waste the team will be targeting, along with any other expectations relative to objectives people issues, desired outcomes, and so on.
  • Describe the start and end points of what you want to observe and study.
  • Conduct the Waste Walk and maintain communication protocols throughout; remind the team that as they interact with and pose questions to those doing the work, they must listen carefully to the answers.
  • Reconvene in a meeting room afterward to record ideas, consider what the team has learned, set priorities, and move into action! Sometimes it gets harder as the team disperses, so be sure to maintain communication and measure progress after-the-fact.
  • Be inquisitive…curious…
  • Make Waste Walks a regular part of people’s work; they should not happen once in a blue moon

Finally, if there is an over-arching theme or mantra associated with an effective waste walk, it is NOT “Don’t just stand there; do something!”

Conversely, the best over-arching mantra is, “Don’t just do something; stand there and learn!”